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Green Hill University

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Sonic raced across the south lawn of Green Hill University, Redbull in hand. Barely a week into the semester and he was already running late to everything, as per usual. It didn't help that his next classhome ecwas literally across campus from his dorm. He checked the time on his phone as the humanities building finally came into viewonly ten minutes late, not bad.  

 

Sonic's feet finally slowed as he burst through the front door. He wandered through the maze of halls, trying to remember the room number on the schedule that he had barely glanced at since registering. He hadn't planned on going to college, really, but the university had offered him a track scholarship and Tails had almost begged him to come to Green Hill with him, not wanting to be alone in college at the age of 13. Sonic could never refuse Tails anything, so he relented, filling his schedule with easy-sounding gen-ed courses and hoping to just coast by until he was forced to choose a major. What he was really here for, anyway, was track. Green Hill's track team was the best in the region. Past members had held most of their records for almost a decade—fastest 100m dash, fastest laps, most matches won in a single season—and Sonic wanted to break all of them.

 

After giving up and pulling out the schedule on his phone, Sonic finally found the classroom—105. He pulled open the door, the creaking interrupting the haggard-looking professor in the middle of his lecture.

 

He turned towards the source of the noise. "Oh, nice of you to finally join us, Sonic," he droned, voice dripping with dry sarcasm.

 

Sonic winced sheepishly in lieu of a response. Now probably wasn't the best time for one of his usual quips. Ducking into the room, he quickly scanned the room for a place to sit. The small ancient looking classroom was a kind of kitchen-class hybrid, with one side presumably for the home and the other for the ec. Almost every seat was full.

 

Only a lone desk in the back of the classroom remained empty. Without thinking twice, Sonic strode towards it. He plopped down unceremoniously into the stiff plastic chair, sparing a passing glance at the kid beside him. He looked older than Sonic—dark red eyes and black fur. His arms were crossed tightly at his chest and his lips were turned downward into a seemingly-permanent frown. His dark quills were slicked back, sharp streaks of red running through them, and thick gold bracelets encircled his wrists.

 

Sonic leaned over to him as the teacher continued, offering the gloomy boy his biggest smile. “Hey,” he whispered, “I’m Sonic.”

 

He offered nothing but a side-eye and a sneer in response. 

 

Sonic didn’t take the hint. “So what have I missed?”

 

The brooding hedgehog broke the icy silence with a biting voice. “Listen, kid. Please. Don’t talk to me.”

 

Sonic felt the venom in his glare. He blinked, startled, and sat back in his chair. He tried to turn his attention back to the professor’s droning lecture, something about food prep or family care. But it all turned to white noise as his mind wandered to his next track meet—how he could improve, whether he should replace his lucky Soap shoes with newer Nikes, how hard he should train before the next meet.

 

Eventually, the rustle of backpacks being gathered and everyone leaving in a mass exodus startled Sonic out of his daydreams. He snatched up his half-empty Redbull and turned towards the mysterious boy beside him. Maybe now that class was over he would respond with more than an icy stare.

 

But he hurried off before Sonic could say a word, leaving him open-mouthed and stupefied.

Chapter Text

Shadow skulked across campus towards the library, hands in his pockets. Home ec was his last class, and he had no further obligations for the day. He’d prefer to spend the rest of it in peace. He was entering his 7th semester, a senior. Yet he still wasn’t used to the noisy influx of freshmen that came each fall. Worse yet, being stuck in a gen ed course with mostly teenagers was sure to be a headache.

 

Even though he was a Biochem/Molecular Biology major, Shadow was still required to take a few General Education courses to graduate. He had thought he’d satisfied all those inane requirements already, but it seemed he’d have to waste more of his time and money on an antiquated Responsible Living course.

 

Why universities required students, who just wanted to get on with their own already time consuming careers, to waste a whole semester learning how to bake cookies or do laundry, he’d never understand. And honestly, a college level Family Consumer Science course? In this day and age? How passé.

 

He found his usual spot at the back of the GHU library, among all the dusty and forgotten academic journals. Not too many students found their way back here, save the occasional giggling couples eager to see what they could get away with.

 

Figuring he’d get a head start on the semester’s work, he pulled out his notebook and Organic Chemistry textbook, and started taking notes. For the 7th semester in a row, he had scheduled a hefty 18 hour course load, so he figured it would behoove him to get ahead where he could.

 

Shadow didn’t have too many friends at school, so his free time was dedicated to his undergraduate degree. To him, a university was a place of higher knowledge, and had no room for trust-fund babies who were satisfied with coasting on the average and partying their semesters away.

 

He hated hearing freshmen celebrate their own lack of direction. Seeing a fair share of them either choosing a basic business degree they’d never really use or just dropping out a few weeks in. That utter lack of responsibility for their own life annoyed him.

 

A buzz came from his backpack, distracting him from his work. It was a message from Rouge, a long time friend of his.

 

Heya shadow, wanna get a drink tonight 🍻🍾🥂 ?? It’s friday night and we should celebrate your last year!!! 😉😘❤️

 

Rouge was always looking for some excuse to go out.

 

Not really my idea of celebrating. Find another wingman or go it solo”

 

She knew that Shadow was the kind of person to lock himself away until finals, and wasn’t about to let that happen.

 

Nope, I’m not nearly sad or desperate enough to drink by myself, hon!! (at least not yet)

Besides, drinks on me!! I’ll be swinging by your place at 8, so don’t keep a girl waiting!!”

 

Shadow let out a deep, heavy sigh. Rouge has always been there for him, through the bad times and the worse. Even if he couldn’t express it properly, it meant the world to him. But sometimes her “friendly” pushes for him to step out of his comfort zone just made him want to retreat further in.

 

“...1 hour, and no more, alright?”

 

“Cross my heart!! See you then!! And maybe wear something a little more pleasant than a scowl tonight 😜

 

Carefree and bitingly honest as ever. Rouge had opted to skip out on university; said that sitting in a stuffy classroom listening to some asshole was no way to learn, so why pay them to waste her time? Said that learning came best from experience. Honestly, she had enough natural wit and charm to take her anywhere.

 

Shadow had no hope of being able to concentrate on his work now; time to prepare for social interaction instead. Not really his strong suit. Packing up for the afternoon, the gloomy hedgehog headed for his motorcycle, and made his way home.

Chapter Text

Tails was already hunched over his desk when Sonic arrived back at their dorm room. The kid had rocketed through school, passing both middle school and high school years before anyone thought possible. When he had applied to GHU last year at the tender age of twelve, the admissions department had almost laughed him away, but how could they refuse entry to Emerald Hill’s token boy genius? He was basically a local celebrity at this point, dabbling in building and inventing, showing them off to whoever would listen. Hell, the kid already had an internship lined up with a local IT company.

 

Most people envied Tails—his smarts, his ambition—but Sonic had been his closest friend since childhood, and he saw past the boy genius shtick. Tails was, after all, still just a kid—a kid who liked to laugh, play around and make dumb jokes. He didn’t need another person fawning over his intelligence—he needed a friend, and Sonic was there. “You’re stuck with me now,” Sonic joked once, “couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.” Tails’ laugh and beaming grin afterwards was one of Sonic’s favorite memories.

 

Tails turned from his impossibly-thick engineering textbook as their creaky front door swung shut. “Oh, hey Sonic,” he greeted with a smile before going back to his reading. “How was class?” he asked without looking up.

 

Sonic let out a small, self-deprecating laugh. “Well, I was late to almost half of them. But only by ten minutes this time!” He said the last part as if it was a major accomplishment.

 

Tails gave him a knowing look. “Well, maybe you wouldn’t have been late if you and Knuckles hadn’t stayed up playing ‘Tomatopotamus 6: The Next Generation,’ which is objectively the worst of the Tomatopotamus series.”

 

Sonic let out a gasp, putting a hand to his chest in mock-offense. “How dare you. Tomatopotamus 6 is a classic!”

 

Tails sighed. They’ve had this argument almost weekly for the past two years. “It’s not even finished! The game glitches out until it’s basically unplayable! And the plot—utter nonsense. Why did they feel the need to give Tomatopotamus a human girlfriend?”

 

“But in the end, it was all just a dream, Tails—that’s the genius of it! They completely shatter your expectations and flip the script!”

 

Tails deadpanned. “You’re wrong, but okay.”

 

Sonic pouted. “You just don’t see the beauty that is Tomatopotamus. Knuckles would defend me.”

 

“Knuckles always defends you on this. He has terrible taste too.”

 

On cue, Sonic’s phone dinged from his bedside table. He used it as an excuse to forfeit this never-ending debate and checked the notification—a text from Knuckles.

 

“Hey, bro. I heard about this new bar down in Station Square. Looks pretty sweet. Wanna come?”

 

Sonic and Tails had met Knuckles in high school—a junior when Sonic was a freshman—and the three became fast friends. They were always seen together, even when Knuckles had graduated, and many made the cliché joke that they were attached at the hip. And, honestly, they might as well be.

 

Sonic smiled as he tapped out a text.

 

“there’s tons of bars around town. what makes this one so great???”

 

There was barely a pause before Knuckles replied. “They have pretty great chili dogs.”

 

“darn, my one true weakness! okay, I’m there.”

 

“👍”

 

Sonic turned back to Tails, who already had his nose buried back in his textbooks. “Hey, me and Knuckles are going to a hang out at a bar in Station Square. Wanna come with?”

 

Tails winced, hesitant. “Normally, I’d say yes, but I really don’t wanna fall behind on my homework.”

 

“Tails, you’ve never been behind on homework in your life! You do assignments months before they’re due. C’mon, have a little fun once in a while.”

 

Tails was quiet for a moment, considering.

 

Sonic pouted. “C’mooooonnn, Tails.” When Tails said nothing, Sonic resorted to pleading. “Please. Please. Please. Please,” he repeated, punctuating each “please” with a poke to Tails’ face.

 

Tails huffed and playfully swatted Sonic’s hand away. “Alright, Sonic, you win. I’ll come with you.” Tails tried his best to look annoyed, but his façade quickly cracked and he broke into a smile.

 

This was a familiar routine—Sonic would want to go out, Tails would refuse, and Sonic would pester him until Tails finally relented. They balanced each other out—Tails made Sonic slow down and Sonic reminded Tails not to let his life slip by so quickly

 

A text from Knuckles broke the silence; Tails and Sonic headed out the door.

 

In a flash of conversation and banter, they arrived at the Dry Lagoon. It was a cozy, dimly-lit place with dark wood furniture and chairs in various shades of forest green. Tall stools sat around the bar and a live band played on the small stage in the corner. Sonic glanced at the name on the pulsing bass drum—Crush 40. Must be some local band.

 

It was packed. It seemed everyone at GHU had heard about this place. Between the band’s mediocre rock music and noise of conversation, the place was almost vibrating with sound.

 

Sonic leaned over to Knuckles. “So, where are those chili dogs you were telling me about?”

 

Knuckles threw his head back in a laugh. “Hang on, I’ll go order you one. You babysit Tails.”

 

Tails let out an offended “hey!” but Knuckles was already swallowed by the crowd.

 

“C’mon, Tails, let’s go find a table or something,” Sonic said, jerking his head towards the sea of tables Tetris’d into the bar.

 

Sonic, grabbing his hand, led a pouting Tails through the mass of people, quickly slipping through the gaps between bodies, scanning the place for an empty seat.

 

Finally, his eyes landed on a small, out-of-the-way booth, blessedly unoccupied. As soon as he saw it, though, two figures slid into the cushy seats—a curvy bat girl with an outfit that left little to the imagination and a sullen looking black and red hedgehog who looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here. Sonic stopped. Was that—

 

“What’re you lookin’ at?” Knuckles’ voice suddenly asked from behind him, almost making Sonic jump.

 

Knuckles followed his gaze as he handed Sonic his chili dog.

 

“Well, we almost got a table, but those two beat us to it.” Sonic, obviously upset at losing his race for the booth, pouted as he went for a bite of his precious chili dog.  

 

“Huh, I think I know that guy,” Knuckles said, glancing towards the moody hedgehog who had stolen Sonic’s booth. “That’s Shadow. I had some college lit class with him last year. Never said much, but I think he’s a medical student or somethin’. He seems really dedicated to that whole edgy and mysterious attitude,” Knuckles punctuated that last point with a small eye roll. “I dunno, he always struck me as the asshole type.” He turned to Sonic. “Do you know him?”

 

Sonic, meeting Shadow's sullen eyes, took a bite of his chili dog in lieu of a response.

Chapter Text

“Yoo-hoo, Shadow! It’s Friday night and about time we set this bitch off! Now get down here!”

 

Rouge, with zero regard for anyone in Shadow’s apartment complex, hollered for him at about five till 8:00. For one so liberal with her life, she was always surprisingly punctual.

 

Shadow, doing his best to prepare, had spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning his apartment, rearranging his living room, occasionally watching television or working on crochet, doing his damndest to quell his anxiety. He was less the "going out" type and more the "burrowing deeper into his bed" type.

 

Rouge had told him to try and look nice tonight, but for him that equated to brushing his quills and putting on a simple grey t-shirt and one of his nicer sweat jackets. He didn’t own too many clothes, and especially none bright enough to stand out.

 

Shadow assessed himself once more before heading out. Sometimes he considered trying a little harder to look nice, but it seemed a waste to him. He was a quiet, dower guy, and knew it. If he tried any harder, he’d stand out, and standing out meant getting people's attention. And attention meant interaction, and interaction meant—

 

“Shadow! Are you rearranging your whole fucking house again? Get out here or so help me, I’ll rearrange your face!”

 

Always so direct. It helped.

 

He stepped out into the warm evening air, and locked his apartment. Rouge was leaning against her car, dressed in attire that let everyone know she ruled this town, and more importantly, that she knew it. Giving Shadow a light smile that only just reached her eyes, Rouge beckoned him into a hug.

 

“Oh hon, we do not see each other enough! How’s prison?”

 

“You know, not everyone can fly through life as easily as you do. Some people need higher education to reach their goals,” Shadow said in a semi-serious tone.

 

“Yes yes, I’m aware most aren’t on my level; some people need the help,” she scoffed in an overly posh tone. Shadow couldn’t help crack a small smile at this.

 

They got into her car that Shadow knew had to cost more than his tuition for the past 4 years—maybe even double. Rouge was right; it had been an awful long time since they had last actually hung out.

 

About a year ago, Rouge had evidently been promoted to a position with a much higher pay grade and much larger time investment. She rarely had a chance to catch her breath. Rouge, however, was nothing if not flexibly meticulous. Bullshit was something she had no time for, and it helped her in attaining her goals. In a way, Shadow envied that amount of sheer charisma and confidence she had. “ Honey, I promise you, confidence isn’t something a person is just born with. Sometimes you gotta fake it until even you believe it.”  That’s what she had told him when he questioned her. He’d never truly been able to wrap his head around it.

 

They were now cruising their way toward Station Square, the city glow just off in the distance.

 

“Soooo, senior year just started for you, hmm? Seeing the finish line yet?”

 

“Hmph, hardly. I may be finishing up the undergraduate part of my degree, but I still have years of med school, more Bio-chem and advanced mathematics courses. Honestly, I’m only just now getting to the ‘fun stuff’,” he said with exaggerated air quotes.

 

“Wow, how exciting,” Rouge said, yawning in semi-fake boredom.

 

“Well... sometimes you need to sacrifice what’s fun, for the sake of others.”

 

“Honey, I do plenty for the ‘sake of others,’ and have a blast doing it.” She almost sang the words.

 

“Will you ever be able to tell me what it is you do, exactly? With how secretive you are I’m inclined to think you’re either some government assassin or a really well-paid dominatrix.”

 

“Ooh, so close, but no cigar. A girl’s gotta have some secrets. Though I will say, assassin-dom would be right up my alley....”  She gave the idea a look of genuine consideration.

 

“At least it’d be an honest living,” Shadow said in a dry yet slightly sarcastic tone.

 

“Ya know, your skills would probably come in handy where I work, actually. We employ many doctors for a wide range of circumstances.” Rouge cast a side glance his way.

 

“... Are you.... actually some kind of government agent?”

 

“Guess you’ll have to wait and find out for yourself. Just let me know if you ever need a job; I’ve got your back.”

 

“... I’ll still pretend your a dom,” Shadow said in a cold voice.

 

Rouge laughed. “Who says I’m not? I could make you into the greatest dominator in all of Mobius! Though, you strike me more as the submissive typ—”

 

“Not to digress from this lovely conversation, but where exactly are we heading?” Shadow abruptly steered the conversation before it had a chance to derail into the personal. They had reached Station Square, and were now navigating its bright and bustling nightlife.

 

“Aw, you are just too cute when you blush! I miss teasing you.” Rouge dabbed away a tear so as to not smear her make-up. “There’s a new bar that just opened up here called The Dry Lagoon.  It sounded like a nice, chill place to grab a quiet drink between friends.”

 

“Here’s hoping. The last thing I want right now is any unsolicited social interactions with a bunch of tipsy assholes.” Shadow spat the words out, slumping further into his seat.

 

“Oh, don’t be such a sour puss, you won’t meet anyone with that attitude,” she said, patting his head in a somewhat condescending, yet endearing way.

 

“Rouge, we’ve been over this, you know I’m not the dating type. There’s just no time for it anyway,” is what he said.

 

What he meant was he didn’t want to bother. Dating… meant interaction. Having to put yourself out there for someone else to judge. Or being used by someone looking to get off on their own self satisfaction. He’d rather just stick to the whole loner schtick he had going: less anxiety and less pain at the end of the day.

 

“Shadow, you can not keep this up. You act like you’re okay being the lone wolf type, but I’ve known you too long for that shitty excuse to work on me,” Rouge coldly called Shadow out. He hated when she did that.

 

“Ugh, Rouge—”

 

“Ooh, there it is! I hope they have valet parking,” she said, stopping this potentially heated conversation in its tracks.

 


 

 

Noise. Pure, eardrum shattering, noise.

 

“A chill and quiet drink, hmm?” Shadow practically shouted this, staring daggers at the sea of twenty-somethings spilling out of the bar. Everyone was shouting, or singing along to whatever band was playing on the stage. So many people, squished together like sardines.

 

This sucks. Everything that Shadow feared had manifested itself. In the most obnoxious way.

 

“You know. Coming to a bar, newly opened, on a Friday night… might have been bad planning on my part,” Rouge said matter-of-factly. Still, she was completely unfazed. She thrived off of crowds. Shadow, on the other hand, wilted.

 

“Please, can we just go somewhere else?”

 

“Nope. I just paid for the valet, and I intend to get my money’s worth!” she shouted toward Shadow, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him into the deep end.

 

Shadow kept his head ducked down. Crowds were always annoying, yet Rouge navigated them like a tank pushing through enemy lines.

 

It reeked of sweat and liquor, the noise bounded off each wall, hitting Shadow squarely in the head. It was horrendous. Rouge had better buy him something strong if he was even going to consider staying here another minute.

 

“Ah ha! Target located!” Rouge kicked into high gear, dead set on an empty booth at the back of the club. It seemed a little quieter over there, at least less densely packed with people.

 

Practically falling into the booth, Shadow and Rouge scooched into opposite sides of an oversized booth. It was probably shitty of the two of them to sit in a booth clearly meant for larger parties, but neither of them could even begin to care.

 

“Woo-hoo, what a rush! Man, I miss my party days,” Rouge said with an air of nostalgic enthusiasm.

 

“Miss them? Did they leave?” Shadow squished himself as deep as he could into the booth, hoping to escape the thick club atmosphere.

 

“Eh, work gets in the way. Now I only have the odd weekend to myself,” she sighed in mock despair.

 

“Such a tragedy,” he replied dryly.”Well, you’ve got 40 more minutes of my time. Use them wisely.”

 

“Oh, don’t be like that! I know you hate it here, but look on the bright side. I’m buying!”

 

“Then please, get me something strong. Inebriated Shadow might actually tolerate this place if you hurry,” he said with a wince; he was starting to get a migraine.

 

“That’s the spirit! BRB.”

 

With an enthusiastic little jump, she was off. No doubt she’d flirt with some wide-eyed suckers on the way. Without fail, she could always end up with at least 5 free drinks in a night, without even trying.

 

With a moment to himself, Shadow let out a deep, heavy sigh. He propped up his head on his hand, and looked on at the scene before him. What seemed like hundreds of people, roughly his age or younger, were either dancing to the band performing or shouting at their friends over drinks. The band was playing some song about learning from your past mistakes, and living on for ‘what if’s’? Pretty sloppy in the writing department, but certainly catchy.

 

He never really got the whole night club scene. Why would anyone willingly come here for fun? It felt like a place of sickening excess and vapid pleasures; nothing but shallow young people drinking away their insecurities and sorrows, trying to feel like they have some sense of meaning in their lives.

 

It felt like Hell.

 

Rouge returned, bursting with energy.

 

“Alright, I ordered you an Old Fashioned, and I have a dozen or so drinks that we can split headed my way. It’s amazing what some folks will do for a little eye candy!” Such a dangerous woman. She could empty your wallet in a heartbeat, drain you dry, take you down the road of bankruptcy, and you’d still say it was worth it.

 

“So, back on topic—your love life.” Rouge was back at it again, attempting to coax Shadow out of his shell.

 

“I’m not interested,” Shadow said in a detached voice, looking off into the crowd.

 

“Shadow, I get that you’re pretty devoted to your future and all that, we all bow before you, oh holy one,” Rouge sarcastically bowed toward Shadow. He was unamused.“And diligence is a good trait to have, to an extent. Even Maria would want you to take some time for yourself! You know, actually live your life!”

 

Maria. Shadow softened at her name. His sister was the reason for his doctoral pursuit. She was his purpose in life.

 

“Please, let’s not get into this now. I’m too sober to be getting this sad.”

 

“You’re always sad. And that’s why you should maybe break out a little more! Come on, let’s give it a try. Anyone here catch your eye? “

 

“Rouge…”

 

“What even is your type? Is it maybe someone like... her?” Rouge said this pointing at a purple haired mongoose girl. Not unattractive, per say, but too...spunky for his liking.

 

“No, Rouge, I don’t date. I don’t even think I have a type,” Shadow said in a sheepish tone, focusing his gaze on the table.

 

“Hmm...how about him?” she pointed then at a bigger crocodile guy sitting at the bar. Probably attractive to most, but still too...much.

 

“Rouge, please just leave it be.” Shadow was rubbing his temples in frustration, blushing in embarrassment.

 

“Ooh, now I don’t know about you, but that one is definitely my type!” She pointed out a group of three guys looking towards their booth. Rouge ever so sweetly waved them over.

 

“What are you—” he stopped mid sentence, looking where Rouge had pointed. There stood a red echidna, a yellow fox (who looked way too young to even be within 100 feet of this bar) and a blue hedgehog, eating a chili dog, with a dumbfounded look on his face. Staring right at Shadow.

 

God, that blue hedgehog again, of all places. He was that freshman asshole who kept showing up late to home ec. His name… escaped Shadow, and the last thing he needed tonight was to deal with some douchebag. Especially if he had to see him after this.

 

“Yoo-hoo, why don’t you boys come on over here and join us for a little while?” Rouge called them over, clearly missing Shadow’s pleading look.

 

“Rouge, I swear to god, I will walk home right now,” Shadow harshly whispered, trying to avoid eye contact, ready to vacate the booth.

 

“Too late honey, looks like they took the bait. Come on, play the field! Let’s see what happens! Maybe we can get a little more than drinks tonight,” Rouge said, a devilish twinkle in her eye.

 

Shadow, filled with dread, shrank even further into his side of the booth.

Chapter Text

Sonic took his time savoring his bite of chili dog—honestly, he’d had better. As the town’s self-appointed connoisseur of chili dogs, he knew his shit, and this was a subpar chili dog, at best. The chili was a bit heavy on the tomato and the hot dog itself was a bit overcooked. But even the worst chili dog was still pretty good, and Sonic never turned down free food.

 

Swallowing down another messy bite, Sonic turned to Knuckles. He was about to give him the awkward answer that no, he didn’t know this ‘Shadow’ guy, as much as he had tried, when a call from the booth before them made them all turn their heads.

 

“Yoo-hoo, why don’t you boys come on over here and join us for a little while,” called the bat Sonic had spotted earlier. She smirked as she caught their attention and threw them a wink with a perfectly-lined eye.

 

Sonic threw a glance at Knuckles, mouth agape, too quick to be enticed by any woman who would look his way. He had watched Knuckles fall for a string of pretty girls in high school,  dating them—or trying to date them—all for about a week before moving on to the next thing that caught his eye. It seemed this friend of Shadow’s was no different—she seemed to know exactly how to use her body to her advantage, and Knuckles had fallen right into her trap.

 

Knuckles was smarter than most gave him credit for, but in this way he was as stereotypically immature as ever.

 

“I dunno, do you really wanna sit with them?” Tails questioned. He too knew Knuckles’ weakness to painted lips and short skirts, and he did not want to endure another night of listening to Knuckles’ attempts at flirting. If he could stop it before it started, he would. “You did just say you didn’t like the guy.”

 

“Hey now,” Knuckles said, quickly backtracking, “I never said I didn’t like him. I just said he was an asshole.”

 

“Yeah, but isn’t that the same—”

 

“And it wasn’t him that invited us over. It was his...objectively-better-looking friend, and it would be rude to ignore her.” Knuckles paused, glancing around at the packed bar. “Besides, it doesn’t seem like we have much of a choice here.”

 

Tails looked between the two of them, silently begging Sonic to back him up, but, honestly, Knuckles was right—if they wanted to sit somewhere, this seemed to be their only option.

 

Sonic shrugged noncommittally.  “Alright, sure. It’s better than standing here all night.”

 

Knuckles grinned, barely holding back a victorious fist pump, and smoothed down his spines before striding towards the booth. Sonic threw a sighing Tails an apologetic glance before following just behind.

 

The sullen-looking hedgehog—Shadow, Sonic reminded himself—seemed to be trying his best to become one with the darkness of his namesake as the three approached and slid onto the stiff cushion lining the seats. His friend, meanwhile, seemed to preen in the sight of the new company, leaning forward and tilting her head enticingly.

 

Knuckles took the opportunity to slide in beside her, leaving Sonic and Tails alone next to Shadow.

 

“Glad you decided to join us,” she practically purred. “The name’s Rouge. That ball of sunshine over there is Shadow.” She tossed her head to where Shadow was staring down at the wood grain of the table, resolutely refusing to meet the eyes now turned on him. Her penetrating gaze drifted over the three newcomers, silently sizing up each of them. When she was satisfied with whatever she found, her honeyed voice spoke again. “And who might you boys be?”

 

Knuckles was quick to speak for the group. “Theses are my friends, Sonic and Tails,” he said, jabbing a thumb towards each of them in turn. “And I am Knuckles.” He leaned in and gave his best smile, puffing out his chest in one of his signature ‘lady catcher’ moves.

 

Rouge coolly ignored the obvious show for her attention in favor of turning towards the other two. “Sonic, huh?” She let her eyes linger on where Sonic was scarfing down the last of his chili dog. “Seems like you can suck down those sausages pretty fast. I’d love to see what else you can do with that mouth of yours.” She curled her lips in a flirtatious smirk and chuckled; Sonic, practically choking, was stunned, turning beet red.

 

Her gaze found Tails next and she gave him a sweet smile. “And aren’t you the cutest thing? What are you, like 10?”

 

Tails frowned, flushing with embarrassment. “Thirteen,” he said indignantly, pouting and crossing his arms over his chest, which was doing nothing to help his efforts to seems more mature.

 

Rouge laughed flicked her gaze back up to Sonic and Knuckles. “Don’t worry, I’ll try and keep myself PG for the kid.” She winked mischievously at Tails, only making him sink lower into his seat.

 

Before she could turn her biting tongue on anyone else at the table, an overworked-looking bartender came over carrying a tray laden with drinks. “The gentleman at the bar told me to send these drinks over to, quote ‘the thick bitch with the wings’,” he droned. “Half the bar, actually, said something to the same effect.”

 

Sonic’s eyes widened— half the bar?— but Rouge only widened her seductive grin, seemingly unfazed. “Perfect. Thank you so much, handsome. I’m just dying of thirst.” She pulled out a wad of money from her chest and placed it in the bartender’s free hand. “For you, sweetie. Treat yourself to something nice.”

 

As soon as the drinks were placed on the table, Rouge smoothly slid one over to each of them, never letting a drop of liquor slosh over the edge. “Drink up, buttercups,” she said immediately taking a big swig of some mysteriously dark drink.

 

Knuckles downed his shot in one go, a blatantly obvious attempt at impressing Rouge. She let it slide and appeased him with a pseudo-impressed look of approval.

 

Sonic eyed his drink dubiously. For as much as he prided himself on his cool, laid-back image, he actually wasn’t a guy that drank that often, and he had no idea what Rouge put in front of him.

 

Rouge seemed to catch his hesitance immediately and pinned him with a look. “Aw, come on kid, don’t be shy. I had to do a lot of flirting to get those drinks. It won’t be that bad.”

 

Suddenly, Shadow broke his vow of silence. “Rouge, stop. You don’t need to scare the kids.”

 

Blue eyes met red as Rouge threw Shadow a surprised look before quickly recovering her cool demeanor. “Oh, nice of you finally stop sulking, Shadow. Have you decided to join us in the land of the living?”

 

Shadow sneered in response.

 

“Anyway, I was just teasing. Learn to have a little fun.”

 

Shadow’s gaze only hardened.

 

Rouge rolled her eyes. “Alright, spoilsport. Since I’m obviously doing something wrong, you entertain them.” Stunned, Shadow opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off, smiling mischievously. She had the upper hand once again. “ I’m gonna go and dance.” She turned to Knuckles, offering her hand. “Care to join me?”

 

“Oh, hell yeah,” Knuckles said, taking hold and following her through the crowd and onto the packed dance floor.

 

The silence she left behind was cold and Sonic didn’t dare break it. He knew where trying that with Shadow would get him. So instead he opted for quietly swirling around whatever was inhabiting his glass, watching the dark liquid mix in a small whirlpool before becoming still again. Tails, looking more tired than uncomfortable, decided to go get himself a more age-appropriate drink. “Well, I’m going to get some...water, or something.”

 

And then, there were two.

 

Curious, Sonic took the smallest sip of his drink. He immediately wanted to spit it back up. The bitter flavor made his tongue curl and he tried to look for something, anything to chase away the taste.

 

He was so caught up in his disgust that he didn’t notice Shadow’s deep sigh until his annoyed voice sounded from beside him.

 

“Here,” Shadow slid a glass of something red and fruity-looking over towards Sonic, “It’s sweeter.” Not about to question Shadow’s sudden act of kindness, Sonic immediately gulped it down. He let out an audible sigh of relief as the sweet cherry flavor washed over his tongue, overpowering any lingering flavor from the previous drink.

 

Shadow looked down at his own drink and surprised Sonic for the third time that night by speaking again. “Sorry about Rouge. She’s...” Shadow searched for the best way to put it, “...Intense. This wouldn’t be my first time being stuck with damage control.” Taking a swig, Shadow continued to avoid Sonic’s eyes, preferring to eye-up his drink instead.

 

“Nah, it’s okay, don’t sweat it.” Sonic tried awkwardly to keep him talking; he hated uncomfortable silences, and who knew if Shadow would open up again. “You two seem to get along pretty well. How long have you—”

 

Shadow raised a hand in protest. “You don’t have to fill the silence. I appreciate the effort, but I’d prefer to spend the rest of my evening...” Again, he paused, looking for a diplomatic response. “...in solitude.”

 

“Oh.” Sonic, put off by this, backed off. “That’s fair.”

 

They sat alone together, in a stiff silence...for approximately 30 seconds.

 

“Um, so, what was it I drank exactly? I don’t really drink, but it tasted nice.” Sonic, ever impatient, questioned the ever-annoyed Shadow.

 

With a heavy sigh, he replied, “a cocktail. I don’t know what it’s called, but it looked like a Cosmopolitan.” Again, he found better company in his glass. “If you don’t drink, don’t force yourself.”

 

Sonic, ever optimistic, tried his hand at cracking Shadows tough exterior once more. “Oh, thanks! Ya know, I actually kinda liked that one. What are you drinking?”

 

Visibly defeated, Shadow relented. His drink had eased his headache some, and he figured it’d be easier to just humor the guy. “It’s called an Old Fashioned.”

 

“Huh, fitting,” Sonic bluntly stated. Shadow cocked an eye at Sonic, finally looking at him, at least a little. With the most shit-eating of grins, Sonic leaned in on his hand, eager to hear Shadow’s response.

 

“Hmph. And just how, might I ask, do you figure that?” Unamused, Shadow folded his arms in Sonic’s direction.

 

“I dunno; you’re all quiet, edgy and stoic looking. Plus you act like you’re older than me, and you’re willingly taking a home ec class. Pretty ‘Old Fashioned,’ if you ask me,” Sonic shrugged.

 

“...You’re bluntness would give Rouge a run for her money…” Shadow muttered.

 

“Well, life’s too short to beat around the bush. Best to say what you really think. Saves time in the long run,” Sonic pointed out, sniffing out the drink he’d tried before. “Man, what even is this?”

 

“You don’t have to humor me, Kid,” Shadow started turning away, looking less annoyed, more guilty. “I’m fine being alone. Go chat up someone who can appreciate it. You’re young. Do whatever it is young people do.”

 

“Alright, first off, my name is Sonic, not kid,” Sonic counted off with a light air of indignation, “Second, you’re only like, what, a couple years older than me? And third, I’m not humoring you. I’m trying to get to know you! I mean, we have a class together. It’d be nice to have someone I can actually talk to.”

 

Shadow gestured towards Sonic’s friends—Tails at the bar, Knuckles on the dance floor attempting to keep Rouge’s attention. “You seem to have a lot of people you could ‘actually talk to’,” he said dryly.

 

Sonic shrugged. “Yeah, but right now I wanna talk to you .”

 

Shadow, looking a little pained at this, nursed his drink. “Sonic, then?”

 

“And you’re Shadow, right?”  

 

Shadow balked. When had he ever told the kid his name?

 

Sonic laughed. “Rouge took the liberty of introducing you while you were sulking,”  he clarified. “But Knuckles actually told me who you were. You know him, right? He said you had a class together.”

 

Shadow eyed the naive-looking echidna, red spines flopping as he attempted to bounce to the beat with some semblance of rhythm. He didn’t recognize the guy, but he was sure he’d probably seen him somewhere. Shadow didn’t make it a point to get to know his classmates.

 

Sonic, however, seemed to go out of his way to know everyone he could. He had the bright-eyed energy and friendliness of someone half his age. Shadow almost pitied the kid—life would break him down one of these days.

 

Sonic refused to let the conversation end there. “So what are you doing in a home ec class, anyway? Doesn’t seem like your kind of...thing.”

 

Shadow side-eyed him. “That’s a bit judgemental. ” Sonic winced at that. “It’s just a gen-ed course I need to graduate. Trust me, I would rather be getting in more biochem courses.”

 

Sonic noticed the chink in his armor and went right for it. “Oh, so you’re a biochem major? That’s rad! Honestly, all of that stuff just sails over my head. But Tails is wicked smart, I’m sure you guys could talk about that stuff for days.”

 

Shadow bit back a groan. He had said too much and now he was trapped in this conversation. Desperately, he tried to turn the subject away from him. “And what, dare I ask, are you studying? College doesn’t exactly seem like ‘your kind of thing.’” He threw Sonic’s own words right back at him.

 

For almost the first time that night, Sonic got quiet. The awkward silence only hung there for a moment before Sonic laughed and spoke again, like he hadn’t missed a beat. “Honestly, you’re not wrong! I didn’t wanna go to college, but all my friends were going and the track team offered me a full ride, so here I am. Really, all I wanna do is run. I haven’t even declared a major yet! I mean, why would I want to waste my time sitting in classes? Just slows me down.”

 

Shadow had to restrain himself from punching Sonic. Throwing away a free education just because he didn’t care. Just to run around in circles with his friends. He’d never understand how hard Shadow had worked to get here. How many decades he would be spending paying off the student loans for medical school.

 

Kids like Sonic were the exact reason he hated undergrads. At least in his Masters program, people would actually be more focused and dedicated.

 

Emboldened by his drink, Shadow wasn’t about to let this slide. “Let me get this straight. You are wasting university funding, doing as you please, taking classes you don’t even need and wasting everyone’s time, JUST so you can literally run in circles?”

 

Sonic hadn’t expected this. Shadow, showing his first signs of emotion, looked visibly pissed at Sonic. “Hey, calm down man, it’s not my fault I’m required to take 15 hours of useless courses just so I can do what I actually want to do!”

 

“But  you don’t actually know what you want to do, do you? You’re no different from half the kids here—coasting by, with no sense of obligation to actually improve or be responsible for your own future.” Shadow knew he probably should have shut up at this point, but he had the courage of whiskey on his side and he was on a roll.

 

“Oh please, and you think you’re better than me because you’ve decided to waste your own life studying molecules?” Sonic, whose laughably low tolerance gave out, was on the offensive. “Just because you’re gonna be a doctor or something doesn’t mean you can look down on me! You don’t have to act all high and mighty; you may think you’re above all these ‘kids,’ but you’re as immature as the rest of us. Pouting and brooding, just because we aren’t like you.” Slurring at least half of his words, Sonic didn’t look ready to give up.

 

“Immature? Just because I’d rather focus on what’s important to me? I don’t plan to be as selfish as you. Have you ever even thought about anyone other than yourself?” At this point, Shadow was done with trying hide his true feelings; he couldn’t. “If you’re going to be so puerile, then why don’t you just do us all a favor and drop out?”

 

“Oh, fuck you dude, I KNEW you were the type of stuck up snob to just throw out big words to sound smarter than everybody,” Sonic laughed, unable to contain how funny he found Shadows edge-lord shtick.

 

“No, fuck you. It’s not my fault your lexicon is as limited as a Speak & Spell, you obnoxious reprobate,” Shadow spat out, infuriated by Sonic's douchebaggery.

 

“Boys, boys, I enjoy the show, but please; get a room.”

 

Rouge, along with an out-of-breath Knuckles, had returned.

 

Unbeknownst to either hedgehog, in the heat of their argument, they had closed the space in between them—inches apart, their breath, grazing one another’s cheek.

 

Shadow, clearly embarrassed backed up, turning away before anyone could see how much redder he’d become. Sonic, still in a giddy, liquor-fueled state, just fell over in rapturous laughter.

 

“Aw, don’t be like that Shadow! It’s not that often I get to see you actually emote,” Rouge whined as she slid back into the booth. Shadow, trying to resume his silent reverie, didn’t want to give Rouge the satisfaction of acknowledgement.

 

Knuckles, trying to catch his breath, noticed they were one party member less. “Where’s Tails?”

 

Wiping away his tears, Sonic attempted to catch his giggles.“Dunno; think he was going to get a drink for himself?”

 

“And you let Tails, the minor, go alone. In a packed bar. With all these strangers.” Knuckles, who had quickly gone from flirt mode to mother hen mode, said this to Sonic in the most sobering tone.

 

“... Oh shit.” Making a 180 from manic to terrified, Sonic bolted out of the booth to go searching for Tails.

 

“Welp, I think that’s our cue to leave, before they call security on us.” Knuckles let out a noticeable sigh of regret. “Thanks Rouge, let’s do this again sometime,” He said as he handed her his number, scribbled on a bar napkin.

 

“Aww, so soon? I was just starting to have fun,” she purred, grabbing the napkin seductively. “Well, see you around, Knuxie,” blowing a kiss his way.

 

With the doofiest of grins, Knuckles stumbled away after Sonic.

 

A moment of silence hung in the air as Rouge stared down Shadow who was lost in his empty glass. She was not about to let Shadow get away with his earlier display.

 

“Hmm, you know I think I’ve figured something out,” she said in a declarative tone, grabbing ahold of one of the nearby blue cocktails.

 

“...What?” Shadow looked up some, but not enough to grant Rouge actual eye contact.

 

“‘Stuck up snob’ and ‘obnoxious reprobate’ would make great pet names for the two of you.” Rouge took a long drink of her cocktail, knowing it’d be her last of the night.

 

“I’m done.” Shadow threw up his hands in frustration, and began his retreat.“Your hour is up.”

 

“Hey, look on the bright side! You survived a night on the town! More or less, “ Rouge called after him, knocking back one more drink for the road.

Chapter Text

Speed . The world around him passed in a blur as Sonic pushed himself to go faster. The only things he could hear were his heaving breaths and the sound of his shoes against the track. This is what he loved about running—the rush. The energy. As soon as he shot off, his mind went quiet and his only focus was chasing the finish line. For a moment, nothing else mattered.

 

Sonic.

The track.

The thrill.

 

The click of a timer broke through and Sonic slowed to a stop. He glanced behind him to the other panting runners, and felt a swell of pride. He had outrun them all.

 

As the runners heaved their lungs out, Sonic, taking a hearty swig from his water bottle, turned towards the track coach standing on the sidelines—a large purple and white cat who everyone seemed to just know as “Big.”

 

Sonic had laughed, “C’mon, what’s his actual name?” The rest of the team had just shrugged. People had questioned the same thing before and never gotten a straight answer—Big the cat was an enigma. A large, sandal-wearing enigma.

 

With his wide eyes and slow, bumbling speech, most assumed Big wasn’t smart enough to pass the fifth grade, much less receive enough education to secure a faculty position at a semi-respected university. Sonic didn’t mind the guy, though. He was nice enough, and if his coaching would lead the team to more wins, then that was all Sonic cared about.

 

“Good job, everybody,” Big congratulated, clapping his gloved hands. “Your times are getting faster.” Big paused, visibly thinking through his next sentence. “Now, let’s—”

 

The sharp sound of a skateboard on a rail cut off Big’s instructions before they began. Everyone’s eyes went to the green bird grinding down the rail of the stairs to the stadium where the track was.  Landing with a perfect kickflip, he caught his board in one hand while sliding up his tinted goggles with the other.

 

Piercing blue eyes scanned the crowd and his mouth curled up in a cocky smile. “What’s up, fuckers,” he said, pointing obnoxious finger guns towards the crowd.

 

Sonic sneered at the sight. Jet the hawk. Sonic had heard about this guy before he even came here. Only a sophomore, Jet already had a reputation for being the fastest one on the team, setting most of the recent records in the league. He was good—and he knew it. He walked around with an air of self-importance, always sporting a sickening grin.

 

He had given Sonic a patronizing grin as soon as they met. “Oh, how cute. Are you the new waterboy?”

 

Immediately, Sonic had went on the defensive. “Actually, I’m on the team,” he said dryly. “And I’m on the fast track to being the star runner of this team.”

 

Jet had eyed his thin form, his old, worn Soap shoes. “Uh-huh,” he’d drawled. He snapped his eyes back up to Sonic, ever-present smirk already spreading. “Good luck, kid. You’ll have to beat me, first.” He’d laughed in Sonic’s face before turning on his heel and striding from the room, still chuckling.

 

If Sonic had hated this guy before, that interaction had only strengthened it. Sonic officially had a vendetta. He would shatter every record this guy had ever set, one by one.

 

“Jet, you’re late,” Big observed unhelpfully.

 

“Oh, good job, big guy. I’m surprised you know how to read a clock.” Jet’s voice was dripping with sarcastic astonishment, but any subtlety went over Big’s head.

 

Big just smiled. “Well of course I can, Jet. When the big and the little hands high-five each other on the 12, that means you’re late!”

 

Jet didn’t dignify this with a response, kicking his skateboard over towards the bleachers and striding over towards the other runners, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed glances being thrown his way. He eyed Sonic as he stepped up, challenge flashing in his gaze.

 

Sonic’s glare only hardened.

 

Big clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. “Alright, everyone, let’s work on getting  our mile times faster. Everybody in position!”

 

Sonic took his place at the starting line, Jet shoving his way in beside him, stretching his feathers in a showy display. Sonic did his best to tune him out, focusing on the heat of the sun and the feeling of his heart thudding in his chest.

 

Big fired the starting pistol and they were off.

 


 

 

Sonic sulked in the locker room as he shoved his gear in his bag. Jet had beaten him again—but just barely. If Sonic hadn’t stumbled on that last mile, he would’ve bypassed Jet before he could even blink.

 

Still, Jet used it as an opportunity to gloat about his victory, loudly espousing his bullshit to anyone who would listen.

 

“Ha! A year and a half, and people still can’t beat my records,” he laughed. “Soon enough, I’m gonna be the fastest track star in the nation. After I graduate, I’ll be an Olympic athlete. I already have recruiters scouting me out.”

 

The people around him seemed in awe of Jet’s proclamations of success, but Sonic only half-believed what he was saying. Jet spun wild stories all the time to make himself look cooler than he actually was.

 

Even still, Sonic felt the unease crawling into his mind. Even for all his false bravado, Jet seemed on a one-way track to success. With the glint in his eye and the smirk on his beak, anyone could tell Jet had had this planned from the beginning, following a carefully-laid-out plan that made his childhood daydreams a reality. He considered every possibility, every opportunity.

 

He had the world at his fingertips already. And here was Sonic.

 

Compared to Jet, Sonic had nothing—just a bunch of half-formed dreams and vague desires.

 

He remembered sitting in the school counsellors’ offices in middle school, fresh out of Emerald Hill’s annual career assembly. “And Sonic, what do you want to be when you grow up,” they would ask.

 

Sonic would always grin and perk up. “I wanna run!”

 

That answer would always get him a laugh and a pat on the head—until it didn’t. “Yes, but what do you want to do ? Who do you want to be, Sonic?”

 

Sonic had tilted his head at this. He knew he wanted to run—what else was there to consider? “Well, I guess I want to be the fastest runner alive,” he had shot back with a laugh.

 

“That’s not enough Sonic. You have to know where you’re going. Life won’t wait on you to decide.”

 

Sonic had always waved that notion off. The future was unpredictable—what was the point in planning for it? Sonic operated on the belief that everything would eventually turn out okay. Why would he want to waste his life worrying about everything that could be?

 

He would rather focus on the now, on his friends, on laughter, on fun nights. On getting the most out of every single breath he took.

 

But as he heard Jet give another self-aggrandizing speech, he was forced to consider the possibility that the future wouldn’t wait—couldn’t wait—and everything would fall apart without him noticing.

 

Sonic stifled a wince. Despite his snobbish attitude, Shadow’s words got to him. It awoke something within him. Something small. Something… unsettling.

 

He shook his head before these seeds of worry could grow into something more. This was a problem for another time. He shut the flimsy metal door of his locker, leaving Jet and his threatening laughter behind.

Chapter Text

“Oooooh, I loooove it!”

 

Maria. The strongest kid, even the strongest person, Shadow has ever known.

 

She sat up in her hospital bed, strung up with IVs like a marionette. They said she had been improving. She almost got through her first week of high school. She…

 

“Shadow, you’re always pushing yourself too much. Where did you find time to make this?”

 

Maria held up a delicately crocheted shawl, a gradient of sky to darker blues. In the face of anxiety, it helped to channel it into more productive outlets. Crochet, embroidery, cooking—honestly anything monotonous and tactile to slow his racing thoughts.

 

“Well, it’s getting colder, so I thought it would do you some good. ” Shadow gave a soft smile—the one reserved for these moments. For Maria.

 

“Well you thought right, they keep it as cold as a meat locker in here!” She shivered for effect.

 

“Oh, you poor thing,” Shadow, in a sarcastically pouty tone, gingerly wrapped his arms around Maria, “Next thing you know, you’ll be served up with a side of asparagus, and a nice merlot.”

 

“Har har,” she rolled her eyes, slightly shrugging him off. “Well, hopefully I taste better than I feel.”

 

“Now, don’t sell yourself short. Food or not, you’ll always be an A1 sister to me.”

 

“Aw, how… sweet?” They laughed a little, a jovial kind of laugh. Laughter helps cover up the uglier parts of reality. Amazingly, she rarely let it show. Never wanting to bring anyone down with her.

 

Reality always finds a way to crawl back out.

 

“So, how’s school going? You haven’t come home since the semester began. Remember, it’s healthy to take a break every once in a while,” she held up a finger, like a school teacher scolding her student.

 

Shadow sat down at the end of her bed. He didn’t have the heart to tell her the real reason why he hadn’t gone home.

 

Terror. Taking a break meant stopping. Stopping meant losing ground, falling behind. Falling behind, failing, losing it, losing…

 

“Maria. I promise you, I’m fine. Two more semesters, and I can finally get started on grad-school. I can rest when I’m dead,” he half-joked.

 

“And If you never rest, you’ll be dead before me!”

 

Never really knew how to respond to those kinds of comments.

 

Life.

Death.

Such delicate subjects.

 

But how do you reply to someone who has already accepted their demise?

 

“Don’t talk like that. I promised you, I would find a way to help you, no matter what.”

 

“And I appreciate, more than anything, what you’re doing for me. But sacrificing your life for a dead girl isn’t a way to spend your life.” There wasn’t much sorrow in her voice. He hated that. Not that she had accepted it, just that she had to accept such a horrible fate at such a young age.

 

Yet he got to be free. Disgusting. Maria could see the pain on Shadows face, and grabbed his hand.

 

“Hey, I’m still here, ya know? And I’m lucky enough to have a brother and a grandfather worrying over me so. But, you’ve spent most of your life worrying about me. So please, let me worry over you a little, alright?”

 

A perfectly fine afternoon, once again ruined by the stench of death. Shadow would gladly digress if he could.

 

“Thank you. But you don’t have to worry about me, okay? School is hardly any issue; this semester's just the standard fair of homework, lectures and freshman ingrates causing me… unease.” Maria, who spent most of her time in hospitals, was always eager to hear about life beyond the sterilized walls.

 

“Ooh, what classes are you taking this year? Anything fun,” she asked, eagerly awaiting his answer.

 

Shadow chuckled. She was a very considerate, but he knew that even she wouldn’t want to hear any of his science jargon.

 

“Well, don’t know about ‘fun’ per se; Senior Biochem, Calculus, Home ec, Genome-”

 

“Home ec? In college? I’m supposed to be taking a Family Consumer Science class this year, but even then, it’s just kind of a write-off class,” Maria questioned with a puzzled expression.

 

Shadow stood, beginning to pace.

 

“Yeah, it’s bizarre to say the least. But I need a responsible living credit to graduate, and it fit into my schedule. Believe me, I’d never willingly take a class with so many…. teenagers,” he shuddered at the word.

 

He stopped. Flashes of the other night hit him, unwelcome in his conscious mind. He tried to not let it get to him, but he still couldn’t shake the utter embarrassment he felt.

 

Sonic… That kid was officially on his shit-list.

 

“You’re always so hard on the younger students, Shadow. I’m sure they aren’t that bad. If they’re so irritating, why not actually talk to some of them? Who knows, you could gain a new perspective, talking to someone different from you.” Hmm, she’d make a great counselor.

 

“...I’ll keep that in mind. Though, I doubt I’d want to know their perspectives on much of anything. They’re so… ungrateful, so disrespectful. They get under my skin in the most irritating way.” His pacing evolved into a fuming march.

 

Maria cocked an eye. “Hmm… sounds an awful lot like it’s less the plural ‘they’ and more so a singular ‘they.’”

 

“How do you know these things? Is mind reading a new symptom of yours,” a stunned Shadow mocked.

 

“Dunno, could be. Would explain the voices I’ve been hearing recently,” she joked. “So, who’s the ‘ungrateful’ and ‘disrespectful they’ under your skin?”

 

Ugh, was it worth getting into again? That Sonic guy had soured his entire weekend, and he had just started to lose that bitter taste of embarrassment. His privacy. His tranquility. His personal space.... all violated in the matter of minutes, by this one guy. Was it even worth going to class tomorrow?  

 

“Honestly, Maria, it’s not worth getting into. Just some guy who sits next to me in class. Seems to be the outgoing type. Insists on trying to invade my privacy. Might need to move seats if I want to get through this class with my sanity intact.”

 

“You could do that. Run away from your problems. Like a child.”

 

“...ouch…” Scathing. He both valued and feared her honesty.

 

“You know what, Shadow. Could you do me a favor?” Maria leaned in, beckoning Shadow closer.

 

“Well, anything, usually.”

 

“For once, just this once, maybe give this person a chance. Maybe they’re trying to befriend you? And, Rouge aside, you could stand to socially branch out a bit more. Loneliness hardens the soul, locks it up tight in fear of disaster. Soon enough, you’ll be trapped within a prison of your own making.”

 

“...Maria…” He couldn’t respond to that. He had always told himself he was fine with being alone… he had thought that.

 

Yet…

 

“Give it a chance, Shadow, for me. You deserve to be happy, brother,” She took his hands in hers.

 

Happiness… Maria made him happy. That was enough.

 

“...No promises, Maria. But, I can attempt to be…. diplomatic…. If possible….maybe...”

 

“That’s the spirit! New quota; at least 5 new friends by Christmas break!”

 

“Whoa now, let’s not get too crazy here.”